In their last outing together (Brick, 2005) director Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt broke new, if incomprehensible, ground in the neo-noir genre and Looper brings us much of the same, lighting up the dark heart of John Huston with some futuristic yet understated, stylish CGI.
In fact, Huston’s influence looms large over Looper as Johnson takes us capably through this tawdry tale of reverse time travel, switching the action between mid-western cornfields and a strangely familiar futuristic city liberally peppered with forties fashion. This movie feels like The Maltese Falcon, has the tension of Key Largo and the protect-the-homestead drama of The Unforgiven. Hell, why not even throw in a little African Queen as Joe (Gordon-Levitt) and Sara (Emily Blunt) develop an oddball in adversity relationship.
Sprinkle a little dash of The Omen and it all adds up to a movie as cool as Chinatown. Let’s be fair though, Looper is no pastiche, Johnson pays tribute to and acknowledges his muses, allowing mobster from the future Abe (Jeff Bridges) to poke fun at Joe’s sartorial choices ‘The movies you’re dressing like are just copying other movies’ . He’s a quirky and original director, respecting the audience enough to challenge them and planting little clues to make you think about the story, a little cinematic treasure hunt which leaves you rewarded and elated by the time you reach the satisfying, if slightly predictable, denouement.
What really works here is the attention to casting detail. Emily Blunt is, as ever, sexy and sassy, reminding us how woefully underrated she is in Hollywood; Paul Dano supports in able fashion and Jeff Bridges is in true scene stealing form as he ties together the movies’ hommages.
Truly heartening in our modern movie world is the growth of Bruce Willis, channelling Eastwood and respecting his age as he breaks new ground beyond big budget bangs and bullets and Gordon-Levitt, adding to an already impressive indie canon and finally leaving doe-eyed geek-in-love behind him and bursting into intelligent action with his trademark hipster cool. His executive producer credit also belies the wisdom which has guided his career since he returned to the big screen in Manic (2001).
Like many retro-future sci fi romps, Looper has it’s flaws. All time travel movies suffer from the complexity of paradox which nerds around the world will dissect at length. This flick leaves the audience breathless yet just fails to land a killer blow. Johnson finds it hard to keep the pace flowing through the two-hour runtime and he is slightly restrained by an altruistic determination to ensure his protagonists do the right thing. Put that aside though and there’s something mouth-watering about the potential this innovative film maker and his Chandleresque brain.
Looper is ambitious and well-conceived, a stylish noir-styled movie way beyond the bulk of the big budget bollocks you’ll see at the local multiplex. But as is the curse of futuristic dystopian sci-fi, it doesn’t quite land. Don’t be put off though, Johnson taps neatly into the post-economic apocalypse zeitgeist and serves a refreshing sashimi platter in a world of cinematic junk food.